Monday, October 14, 2013

Paul and Empire

Commenting on Wright's recent magnum opus on Paul:

In this chp we get to the heart of the new contribution that PFG will make; here is a full display of the imperial cult as a/the context for understanding Paul’s claim that Jesus is Lord.

Now, I haven't read Wright's new book, and I don't plan to. I'm just commenting on McKnight's summary. 

i) It's hard to see how that's a "new" contribution to Pauline scholarship. The Paul-and-Empire angle already well-trodden ground. For some background:

ii) Apropos (i), for those who look to Wright for groundbreaking scholarship, this is day-old bread. 

iii) Academic Bible scholarship (as well as academic theology) is on a perennial quest for newness for the sake of newness. That's a way to make your mark in the field. Saying something new and bold. Or at least make it seem new and bold. 

iv) Although Wright is a theological leader in the Anglican Communion, and even though he has quite a following among some of the laity (both inside and outside the Anglican Communion), I seriously doubt that within the guild of NT scholars, he sets the agenda. He's one of scads of prominent NT scholars. Competition is stiff.

v) But let's get to the main point. In the NT, the Lordship of Christ may have some incidental political reverberations as a polemic against the imperial cult or the divinization of the state.  However, the fundamental reason the NT presents Jesus as Lord is not make a political statement, but because Jesus is the Incarnation of Yahweh. Jesus is the fulfillment of OT prophecies regarding the coming of Yahweh  to redeem, rule, and dwell with his people. And, of course, that will be subdivided into two separate advents.  

Although the Lordship of Christ can serve to undercut totalitarian statism, that's not the raison d'être. Jesus isn't Lord to foil Caesar. Rather, because Jesus is Lord, for reasons altogether independent of Caesar, Jesus can function as a foil to Caesar, and modern counterparts. 

And there's nothing that distinctive about the Roman imperial cult. After all, in the OT you had the Egyptian Pharaonic cult. Same play, different players. The Babylonian state religion is another analogue (cf. Dan 3). 

1 comment:

  1. This is good. My eternal frustration with those who try to make Jesus political is the on-going point missing in this regard.
    I love my wife, that affects how I take care of my property, but that doesn't mean that my loving of my wife is a lawn-care business.
    Everything we believe has potential political ramifications...and every other sort of ramification but that hardly means that we do what we do for all those other reasons.

    Thank you for this.